Legislative Process 101—Motion to Recommit

The minority party in the House does not have many tools available to slow down business, but recently Republicans have been making use of the “motion to recommit” to thwart passage of progressive priorities. Bottom line: Democrats shouldn’t let Republican procedural tricks get in the way of their bold agenda.

Here’s everything you need to know about motions to recommit.

What is a motion to recommit?

A motion to recommit is the last chance for Members of Congress (MoCs) to stop or amend a bill before it gets a final vote on the floor of the House. The minority party has the right to offer this motion as the final step before a vote on passage, which in practice means that the majority party may not know what’s in the motion until minutes before they have to vote on it.

The motion enables legislators to either send a bill back to the committee of jurisdiction (if it is a “straight” motion), or amend the bill without sending it back to committee (if it is a motion to recommit “with instructions”). It is rare for these motions to pass, since they are typically offered by the minority party to try to stop the majority from achieving final passage.

But Republicans have quickly figured out how to weaponize this procedural maneuver against Democrats. Their strategy? Pick an issue they think will divide Democrats, throw it into a last-minute MTR, and peel off just enough Dems to successfully water down an otherwise progressive bill with something problematic.

What are some recent examples?

The Republicans have used motions to recommit in this Congress to add divisive or counterproductive language to progressive bills that they know will pass. For example:

  • Before the vote on H.R. 8, which expands background checks to close gaps like the gun show loophole, Republicans (along with 26 Democrats) voted to add language that required reporting to ICE when undocumented immigrants attempt to purchase firearms—an attack on immigrants that won’t do anything to keep our communities safe.

  • As part of the historic resolution to end US support for the unauthorized war in Yemen, House Republicans introduced a motion to recommit with language irrelevant to the underlying bill about confronting anti-Semitism. While Democrats of course supported the substance of this motion and thus unanimously adopted it, it had the effect of stripping the resolution of its special privileged status and causing an unnecessary roadblock that will require an extra House floor vote to fix, which may obstruct the resolution’s final success.

What can Democrats do about this?

Some Democrats want to amend the House rules so that there’s more time to consider Motions to Recommit. We think that solution doesn’t tackle the whole problem. Although the extremely limited time to read and understand the text of MTRs is a concern, the bigger problem is that MTRs are almost always political tricks—and they should be treated as such.

Democrats should oppose MTRs offered in bad faith to derail the underlying bill. These MTRs are brought to the floor solely to help Republican candidates run attack ads in future elections, and Democrats who vote for a Republican MTR are only granting them cover for their efforts. They just want to be able to run an ad that says, "Your Democratic MoC voted for/against X," even though the underlying bill had nothing to do with whatever the ad is about. Instead of falling into the Republicans’ trap, Democrats should vote together to reject bad faith MTRs, to deny Republicans an ongoing tool to interfere with passage of our progressive priorities.